As a 14-year-old in Tasmania in the early 1990s Maria* was removed from the care of her Mother and step-father after allegations of abuse were flagged by her school teacher.
She had been heavily bullied at school and was isolating herself during school hours before a school counsellor and child safety were called in for a meeting.
"My mum and I went to this meeting at child safety and it was just a disaster. There was nothing really explained to my mum other than that my step-father was making me feel uncomfortable," she said.
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"We left and she dropped me at a friends house on the way home and I went back home and then two days later I was in another state living with my dad."
At the time the allegations were denied and Maria left Tasmania thinking nobody believed her and feared losing contact with her mum and wider family as a result.
In hindsight she realised being removed from her family was the right thing to do, but said she continues to hold concerns that she was afforded the option to stay even after her case was investigated and the allegations were substantiated.
"To me it's like, if someone has admitted that they have done these things, how come nothing was done? How come I was still able to go to the home? How come they were asking me 'what would you like to do?'," she said.
Maria said she felt powerless at the time to do anything about the situation after being "gaslighted" by her step-father for much of her childhood in a way that caused her to doubt herself and question whether she was the problem.
"Through all of that and I just wanted to be loved and accepted by my mum and my extended family. All I was worried about was causing problems and just wanted to keep a connection with my family," she said.
That Maria was given the option to maintain contact by child safety at the time, and reading over her file as an adult, she said she could notice a system that provided chances for abuse and lacked the nuance to do anything about it.
I'm still completely gobsmacked by the whole thing when reading over my file.Maria
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But Maria's relationship with child services in Tasmania did not end there.
While she managed to remove herself from the situation with her step-father, almost 30 years later Child Safety Services were thrust back into her life.
In 2019 she received a call from a family member telling her that her daughter was in trouble, and that her child was going to be removed from her.
Maria said the betrayals that she felt from child services in her childhood spurred her to make sure whatever was going to happen to her grandchildren would spare them from the cyclical nature of child safety notifications that she had noticed throughout her lifetime.
She said the idea that her grandchild could fall into the same cycle as she did drove her to find justice for them, "and justice for my own life".
According to the Child Safety Plan outlined in 2019 fears were held over whether the child would be subjected to family violence, criminal activity, or driven in a car with a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or without a license.
Maria said she remained worried the concerns outlined in the safety plan had not been resolved despite intervention from Child Safety Services receding.
"There was no following up whatsoever and nobody had any idea what was going on," she said.
"Then my daughter reconnected with the guy that was abusing with her and everything just spiralled out of control."
Child safety was again engaged just under a year later, but this time the situation was different. In 2019, when initial contact was made by child services Maria's daughter was pregnant, and by the time of the second intervention she had given birth.
Fighting Back against family violence
Maria said the second intervention occurred after a family violence incident and a week later both children were taken into the custody of child services.
Drawing a line in the sand, Maria took the children into her care.
And now she is fighting to make sure they are not forced back into a life in which they may experience or witness family violence, alcoholism, drug-use and other illegal activities.
"It's not about me anymore," she said.
I found freedom, but what about the people who never found freedom?Maria
Maria is worried to observe a child safety cycle that is still struggling to help vulnerable children 30 years after it struggled to help her. Her life has afforded the opportunity to reflect on why it happens.
"As I've gone through life, people that I've met that have had troubles, they've all had the same experiences as a child - it came out of abuse as a kid," she said.
"You grow up and you don't know how to have healthy relationships with people and family violence and abuse gets attracted to you, and before you know it your kids are involved, and then your grandkids and it starts going around, and around, and around in circles. "I will fight so my grandkids don't have to grow up in that sort of world."
*Name changed for privacy reasons.
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